Miriam bat Isaac has dreams of becoming an alchemist. But those dreams may shatter before they even begin when scrolls containing valuable formulas of the Alchemical League are stolen from her home. If those scrolls fall into the wrong hands, life could become very bad for the Jews of Alexandria. That pressure forces Miriam to consider that her own family may be to blame. Her father on the cusp of financial ruin, her brother raising money to travel to Gladiator school, and her fiance jealous of her alchemy; all have motives for stealing the scrolls. Miriam must navigate the city’s underbelly–where the Romans are the least of her worries–in order to discover a thief in her own home.
This book really grated on my nerves. I think the reason for that can be broken down into two parts.
First, I understand that it’s set in Alexandria, Egypt in the first century AD, and I’m among the majority of readers who only have basic knowledge of that time period. But there is a fine line between setting the scene for readers and telling them details that have little to do with the stories. This book can’t even see that line in its rear-view mirror. Four pages were dedicated to chariot racing in Chapter 3 simply because a character saw a speech by someone who liked to watch chariot races. And while the use of Latin words alone didn’t bother me, but the parenthetical translations did.
The second reason this book frustrated me was the tendency with conversations to over-explain or to use them to describe something rather than just show me. The narrator has a conversation with her aunt about her identity, and she gives examples as if to prove her aunt’s conclusions about her are valid. Using conversation to provide description happened several times as well, including her aunt offering and describing a meal along with her brother describing details of their shared past. These were things that seemed put there for the reader’s benefit and really interrupted the flow of dialogue.
The story took quite a few chapters to get going, at least for me. The subplot of Miriam not wanting to get married started right away, but nothing was mentioned about the stolen scrolls until after chapter 4. Eventually the pace did pick up. However, I found sympathizing with Miriam very difficult at that point. The reason may be because I expected a lot more tension and danger than the story presented.
All of that being said, the amount of research that the author did for this book is completely evident. I have no doubt that she knows what she’s talking about.
I have a hard time recommending this book to readers as a compelling mystery. But I would say that it does give an interesting look into the life of a Jewish Roman citizen in Alexandria during the first century AD.
The Deadliest Lie by June Trop is published by Bell Bridge Books.
*I received an advanced copy of this book in return for an unbiased review.